Who doesn’t like a periodic dose of violence, gore, terror, and shock from a controversial film?
A lot of people, apparently.
There have been many a film out there that the public was just not cool with, and people en masse would go as far as protesting and banning the films before they could even be released. This, of course, still happens regularly– sometimes to films that really don’t deserve such backlash.
We can look at movies like A Clockwork Orange and be repulsed by its shocking performance of violence and gore. However, we can’t pretend that the movie (and many like it) isn’t an iconic, visually stunning, and incredibly affecting piece of film. Even films that may have deserved to be banned present a difficult question: should a film, even one that encourages the worst in people, be banned in a free world?
These films were not released because of terrible production, legal troubles, public outrage, and everything in between. Some of these films were initially unreleased and later released to the public, while others are only unreleased in particular countries. Some spoilers may lie ahead, so be wary!
Check out these 15 Movies That Weren’t Released Due To Controversy!
15. Buffalo Soldiers
The United States and its citizens will likely never forget the atrocities that occurred during the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York on September 11th, 2001. The event caused a surge in patriotism and a wider dedication to American troops that lasted for many years. It makes sense why any film that shone a bad light on the U.S. military would be delayed or outright banned during that time.
Buffalo Soldiers, a satirical film starring Joaquin Phoenix and based on a book of the same name, follows the story of a crooked, heroin-dealing American soldier who causes havoc in Berlin. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival just days before the terrorist attacks took place. The film remained unreleased in theaters until mid 2003.
14. A Clockwork Orange
We can’t have a list of banned controversial films without mentioning Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian crime film A Clockwork Orange. The film, starring Malcolm McDowell, comments quite violently on morality, the faults of psychology, and social problems that plague British culture. The 1971 film boasts intensely violent scenes of rape, assault, and murder.
While American audiences enjoyed the film, earning it nearly $24 million more than it cost to make the film, the movie was outright banned in the United Kingdom a year or so after its initial release. Protests, widening emulative violence, and pressure from the police led Kubrick to banned the film from the United Kingdom himself until the year 2000.
13. Hippie Hippie Shake
Hippie Hippie Shake is an unreleased British film starring Cillian Murphy and Sienna Miller. The film is based on the life of Richard Neville, the editor of satirical magazine “Oz”, which was the subject of a very public trial for producing obscene content in the sixties.
Production for the film began way back in 1998 and ran into repeated roadblocks. Directors kept getting switched out through the years, and numerous producers and screenwriters tossed the script back and forth. When things finally started to gain some traction, the film was abruptly delayed yet again in 2008 due to Sienner Miller’s controversial personal life.
In 2009, both the director and screenwriter left the project in post-production. The real-life people depicted in the film also expressed distaste for its authenticity during test screenings, and it still remains in movie limbo– probably indefinitely.
12. The Day The Clown Cried
The Day The Clown Cried is an unreleased American drama that was initially set for release in 1972. The premise of the film is the pretty clear reasoning behind the release-killing controversy. It follows the life of a German circus clown who is held at a Holocaust concentration camp. The film boasts a lot of dead children, dark misplaced comedy, and bad Hitler impersonations. Some film critics had the chance to view a rough cut of the film, responding with overwhelmingly negative criticism.
At least Jerry Lewis, the director and clown in question, knew when a bad piece of film was unsavable. He’s said many times that the film is embarrassing and a terrible piece of work that he is ashamed of, and that it will never be released: “You will never see it. No one will ever see it because I am embarrassed at the poor work.”
11. Don’s Plum
Even many hardcore Leonardo DiCaprio fans haven’t heard of the 2001 indie drama Don’s Plum, and that’s exactly what the actor, along with Tobey Maguire, wants.
The low-budget black and white film follows the stories of a group of friends within one night at a diner. DiCaprio and Maguire tried desperately to block the film’s release and to this day it is still banned in the U.S. and Canada. They claimed that the film was a favor to a friend and they didn’t expect it to be released in theaters.
However, DiCaprio’s popularity boom shortly after Titanic prompted the director to offer the film to major distributors, and everybody would see their beloved puppy-eyed Jack as misogynist, spoiled brat Derek– possibly killing his career. The film’s producer filed a lawsuit against the two actors for slandering the film and breaching their contract.
The only place one can find Don’s Plum is on YouTube before it is inevitably deleted.
10. C–ksucker Blues
Robert Frank’s C–ksucker Blues is a band documentary that chronicles The Rolling Stones’ American tour in 1972. The film gathered quite a bit of controversy, particularly from its subjects– Mick Jagger can be seen snorting coke, a groupie shoots up heroin in the band’s hotel room, and general lewd and deviant acts committed by the band are shown throughout the film.
The band immediately recognized their mistake in letting Frank film them, and in fear of backlash and possible illegal drug incrimination, they took Frank to court to prevent the film from being released.
A concert film called Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones was released instead. Currently, the film can only be shown with Robert Frank present, no more than four times a year.
9. Black Water Transit
American History X director Tony Kaye is no stranger to controversy. His film Black Water Transit stars Karl Urban and follows the action-packed story of an arms dealer in New Orleans. It was slated for a wide release in 2009.
While the film itself isn’t so controversial (it was only released at one film festival before being shelved), the slew of lawsuits surrounding Kaye and the film’s productions have not yet ceased. It seems as though the cut that was shown to the studio and producers was vastly different than what was expected and invested in, and Kaye claims that he has continued to edit the film, seemingly for fun.
8. Empires of the Deep
Empires of the Deep could have been an awesome adventure movie. After the success of 2009’s Avatar, China really wanted to make their own badass fantasy flick to rival James Cameron’s massive success.
A collaborative effort between Jon Jiang and director Michael French ensued, and the result was a film about a young man and a mermaid who fall in love in a mythical warring world. While the concept was interesting at best, it’s hard to figure out where that $140 million budget for special effects went.
Even the trailer doesn’t do the film justice for just how terrible it looked. Critics gave the 2012 trailer overwhelmingly negative reviews and it was shelved, possibly indefinitely, leaving actors and production crews still unpaid for their work.
The 1999 Tamil language film Engineer could have been a fascinating film. The adaptation follows the story of the Sardar Sarovar Dam project, a massively protested dam project in India that caused social and environmental damage. The film starred famous Indian actor Arvind Swamy and seemed promising until it was shut down with only 80% of the shooting completed.
While the controversial subject matter, which involved the Supreme Court and a polarizing political decision, caused some eyebrow raising during its promotion, controversy isn’t directly what shut down the film. Financial troubles and producers who were nervous about the divisive subject matter plagued the film from the start. Although a new producer planned on reviving the film where it was left off, it still remains shelved.
6. The Brave
Talk about a petty situation! Johnny Depp directed, wrote, and starred in this 1997 film adapted from a Gregory McDonald novel by the same name. The story follows a destitute Native American man named Raphael who agrees to be in a snuff film in order to provide for his family.
Sounds like a very emotional rollercoaster– but American critics that viewed the film at Cannes were extremely critical of Depp’s directorial debut. His response was to pull the film, release it literally everywhere else, and ban it from being released in the stateside.
Depp also accused the media of attacking him because of his teen dream past, but realistically, the movie was just not that great. Even the late Marlon Brando couldn’t save it.
5. Midnight Rider
Randal Miller’s 2014 biopic drama Midnight Rider was supposed to be a film based on the life of singer Gregg Allman, based on his autobiography My Cross To Bear. Unfortunately, not only was the film never released, it was also never fully completed. Due to the gross negligence from the film’s producer, a camera operator was killed.
While filming on an overpass in Wayne County, Georgia, camera assistant Sarah Jones was struck by a train and immediately killed. Seven other members of the crew were also seriously injured in the incident. Miller, his wife, the producers, and several other people involved in filming were charged with involuntary manslaughter because of the incident.
One good thing that came out of the tragedy was the Safety for Sarah movement, a large campaign created to force film studios to enforce more safety regulations during filming.
4. Last House on the Left
Many horror fanatics have at least heard of the 1972 cult horror film The Last House on the Left, but it’s definitely not everybody’s cup of the tea. The incredibly violent film depicted the rapes of two teenage girls as well as a slew of other violent scenes.
The films was outright banned from the United Kingdom. In the eighties, it was re-released with all of the more “questionable” scenes cut from the film on VHS. This occurred during Britain’s video nasty scare in which the press openly condemned violent films and how they traumatized children. In turn, the cut VHS version was also banned and remained so until recent years.
Despite accusations of the film being deeply misogynistic and pure torture porn, a remake of the film was released in 2009 with similarly gruesome scenes.
3. Cannibal Holocaust
Cannibal Holocaust is one of those films that most people aren’t that up in arms about. Even if you believe in fully free speech, the very real acts of violence committed in the 1980 film against animals is deplorable.
The Italian cannibal horror film is considered one of the first to influence the “found footage” style horror film. It’s an incredibly graphic film– the film’s director was even arrested by local authorities on obscenity charges. Investigators believed that the acts committed looked too real and that actual people were killed.
Despite being cleared of any wrongdoing, it was found that real animals were tortured and killed for certain scenes on camera. The film has been banned in Italy and Australia as well as other countries.
2. Pretty Baby
This historical drama from 1978 boasted some pretty big names, like Brooke Shields and Susan Sarandon. However, the plot of this heavily controversial film led to it not being released in several countries.
In Pretty Baby, a twelve year old girl (Shields) is the daughter of a New Orleans prostitute. The madam in charge of the brothel decides the girl’s virginity is ready to be auctioned off. An adult photographer begins to fall in love with the girl and a very gross Lolita-esque story unfolds. The film contains casual depictions of child prostitution and showed a very underage Brooke Shields nude.
The film was, for the most part, praised by critics, but the audience backlash led to it being banned in Ontario and Saskatchewan until the late nineties.
Maniac is one of the original slasher films that helped popularize the genre through the eighties. This 1980 film captures the story of a deeply disturbed serial killer who scalps his young female victims because of trauma inflicted upon him as a child. The film is, of course, incredibly violent and features gorey depictions of women being murdered.
The film is still unrated. When it was initially released, a poster saying “No One Under 17 Will Be Admitted” was displayed at participating theaters. A heavily edited version was eventually released the following year with an R rating, but was banned in the United Kingdom for many years until 2002 when an even more edited version was made.
The 2012 remake, which stars Elijah Wood, was similarly banned in New Zealand.
Have you seen any of these banned movies? Do you think these controversies were
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